Trade deadline is a letdown for Celtics fans, but March Madness will not be

Forget Paul George and Jimmy Butler for now. The Celtics' next great star is playing college ball, probably out west.

Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder steals the ball from Indiana Pacers forward Paul George late in the second half.
Paul George is staying with the Pacers. Jae Crowder remains a Celtic. And the trading deadline was a dud. –Charles Krupa / AP

COMMENTARY

The Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament begins March 8, with at least three games airing on ESPN.  Then the NCAA men’s basketball tournament tips off six days later, on March 14, all over the Turner Sports brand. It’s that time of year where we’d better figure out where to find truTV again.

I do not bring this up in order to suggest you start thinking about your March Madness brackets in advance or to lure you into a squares pool or two. I bring it up so that you’ll remember to get your scouting cap on, because this is where you are going to find — hopefully, anyway — the next great Boston Celtics.

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So get your fix of Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, and Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen in the Pac-12 tournament, hopefully with ESPN analyst Bill Walton — who knows what it takes to be an ideal Celtic — as your guide. Then watch them in the NCAA tournament, competing against Kansas’s Josh Jackson and a few other lottery prospects, as they attempt to compile a few shining moments before departing for the NBA. Watch them, and figure out who you want, even fall for one or two of them, because they are Danny Ainge’s best hope of adding a cornerstone talent to the Celtics.

Yes, Thursday was supposed to be that day by some expectations, one in which the hope would become a reality and the NBA trading deadline would end at 3 p.m. with the announcement that the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler or the Pacers’ Paul George had been dealt to the Celtics. They were hopes based in reality as much as rumor; the Celtics’ conversations with the Bulls about Butler go back to last year’s trading deadline. And when it was reported early in the afternoon that the potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, which the Celtics have courtesy of the last-place Nets, was on the table in a potential deal for George, well, we all imagined that Larry Bird might connect with his old teammate on their first trade as rival executives.

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Instead, this trading deadline was quieter than the chirp of a solo cricket. There were a few mildly intriguing deals. the Mavericks acquired Everett’s Nerlens Noel from the Sixers in a deal that sent presumed Celtics secondary target Andrew Bogut to Philly. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott were moved from Chicago to Oklahoma City. The Raptors acquired P.J. Tucker, a player the Celtics were purportedly interested in, for Jared Sullinger, a player the Celtics got rid of before the season. The Nuggets traded for Roy Hibbert, who is tall. Otherwise … I mean, Tyler Ennis to the Lakers, anyone?

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Celtics fans who wanted some kind of action were left refreshing Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter feed to no satisfaction, especially since this is the second straight season that Ainge didn’t deal any of his assets at the deadline. I wanted them to do something too — Bogut or Tucker would have been helpful, inexpensive pickups, and I doubt Bogut signs here if he’s bought out.

Those who believe that the Celtics need to go for it now — despite the fact that the Warriors have not indeed seceded from the league — are probably ticked off now. I am not among them in that sense: The Celtics have a hugely likable and fun team that currently sits in second place in the Eastern Conference and owns — again — the potential No. 1 pick this year as well as Brooklyn’s No. 1 next year. Unless you’re deluding yourself that Butler or George — both of whom would be third- or fourth-best player on the Warriors – is going to make the Celtics a true championship contender immediately, don’t you have to be somewhat happy with the status quo?

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But Butler and/or George? Meh, I’m glad it didn’t happen. Those deals seemed like long shots unless Ainge was willing to pay a steep price — probably too steep. I was relieved at 2:46 p.m. when I looked at Wojnarowski’s Twitter feed and saw this:

He’s a great player. He’s also a free agent in a year and a half with a lifelong Lakers fixation. As the Celtics have gotten better and better this season — they’ve won 24 of 32 — I’ve grown fonder of Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart and the promise of what those Nets picks may bring.

No, the Celtics didn’t get a superstar today; I’m not sure one was available. And so the fallout is that they remain in a best-of-both-worlds situation. They’re excellent in the moment, though they will not hang a banner this year. And the future is even brighter than the present. I’m going to enjoy them for who they are now. And then I’m going to brush up on my West Coast basketball over the next few weeks and daydream of what they might become.

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